Being Alive

Two years ago in the beginning of March I decided I was going to kill myself. Evidenced by my writing this, that plan never came to fruition. Even so, I still think about the pain that I felt in that moment and the fact that I reached what I believed was my absolute breaking point, lived through it, and it didn't kill me.

In general, the transition from winter into spring has always been difficult for me. I think it's because in the winter, the rest of the universe feels more my speed. The world feels dulled down, making it easier to process through my narrow spectrum of experienceable emotion. I hate how faux-poetic this sounds, but things look as bleak outside as they feel inside my head. The dreariness of winter makes me feel like maybe I'm not fundamentally broken. Maybe I do fit in to the grand plans of the universe. Maybe I'm going to be alright.

But then spring comes around, and everyone starts talking about how much better they feel in the spring, and how the winter depresses them. It feels like I'm driving in the emotional breakdown lane while everyone around me is peeling off into the distance in their shiny red Teslas of happiness. I wait for the spring to change my mood too, and then maybe the summer will make me feel better, or maybe I'm just more of a fall person, and then it's winter again. For the most part, I've managed to stop setting deadlines for myself to be happy and I've gotten better at living in the moment without making excuses for why I feel the way I do, but sometimes I'll hit a perfect storm of mental anguish that punches me in the gut and kicks me while I'm down.

The spring of my junior year in college was the most difficult and draining semester of my undergraduate career. While I made some great friends during my time studying abroad the semester prior, I was deeply emotionally exhausted by the entire experience as I desperately wanted that trip to completely change my life and give me a clear perspective on how I foresaw my future unfolding. Returning to campus in the spring there were increased pressures to have that perspective that I lacked, to be seeking out post-graduate employment opportunities, to make the most of my time left at Colgate, and I started to crumble.

I started noticing all of the classic Red Flags of Depression: I was slacking off in classes, things that usually made me happy became sources of grief, I was going out and drinking a lot, depending on the day I was either sleeping way too much or not enough, and I was oscillating between eating like trash and not eating anything. The destructive thought patterns I had worked so hard to silence came back with a vengeance telling me that I was worthless, that everyone hated me but was too nice to say it, that everything I touched turned to shit, that I would never amount to anything, that the universe would be a better place with out me, etc. I felt like I was drowning and the weight pulling me down to rock-bottom got heavier with every breath I took.

During midterms week I had six papers due in five days and two exams. My reward for finishing it all would be a spring break trip that I had exhausted myself organizing for a team full of people who I had convinced myself wanted nothing to do with me. I was stretched so thin that it felt like an out of body experience. Like someone else had to somehow pull all of this nonsense together and I was just watching them frantically scrawl to-do lists on index cards until they became so overwhelmed with panic that they crawled under their bed and pressed their watery eyes into their kneecaps to try as if to physically inhibit the escape of tears because crying meant admitting defeat. Intellectually, I knew that the assignments would get done, the trip would be fine, summer would come and go with or without a corporate internship, I would graduate, and time would continue to unfold ad infinitum. Everything would be okay. I could see the light of "okay" at the end of the tunnel and I just wanted it to get out of my eyes.

I've dealt with thoughts of suicide effectively the entirety of my adult life, but continuously grappling with the existential weight of eliminating yourself from the universe and spontaneously developing a course of action to execute that hypothetical are two entirely different sensations. The day I decided I was going to kill myself, I felt this huge weight lift off of my shoulders. I fiddled at my desk, dismantling my razor so I could gain access to the blades and I knew I was making the right choice. I wasn't going to have to trudge through any more psychological warfare with myself, I wasn't going to suck the joy out of anyone else's days, and I wasn't going to have to keep fighting against all of the universe's signs that I wasn't supposed to be here.

In retrospect, it terrifies me how good it felt to decide to kill myself. I stopped worrying about the trauma I would impose on whoever found my body because the people I lived with really didn't like me anyway and I was doing what was best for myself and the universe. I stopped worrying about the impact my death would have on the people that cared about me because not only would they be better off without me, but if they really cared about me they would be happy that I finally found the strength to follow through on a dream I had had for years. Everything would be fine once I was dead.

I was ready to go. I made the decision on Saturday that I would kill myself Sunday afternoon (I had to go to some kind of meeting Sunday morning, and I didn't want anyone to get worried about me if I missed it). I had planned to just watch Netflix and go to sleep on Saturday night, but a friend of mine was visiting campus from being "abroad" in DC and convinced me to go to a theme party that his organization was having with my sorority. I was kind of visibly not in a good mood, but I was personally guaranteed that my friend would take full responsibility for making sure I had a good time. I really wasn't feeling going to a loud, sticky frat party to be how I spent my last night on Earth, but I figured that if I went and had fun, then maybe it would remind me of why being alive wasn't that bad. It might give me the will to stay around for another day, or another week, or another month. 

So he helped me put together a good outfit for the wild west theme, which is usually one of my favorite activities. My roommate drove us to the party and once I was there I was excited to see the newest member of my sorority family, who is usually one of my favorite people to hang out with. I had a conversation with a friend of mine where he gave me praise for the writing I had done for Odyssey, which is something that usually fills me with a sense of purpose. I just knew I wasn't supposed to be there, that I didn't deserve to experience any of the nice, fun things happening around me, and that the kind people I chatted with were only kind because they felt a moral obligation to cheer me up even though I was sucking all of the energy out of the room just by being in it.

I told my friends I was leaving and made an empty promise to my sorority offspring that she could come over later and we would order pizza. My roommate texted me to see if I was having fun and I told her I was walking home. She came and picked me up, reinforcing my perceived permanent position as a burden on everyone in my life. We got back to our house and I reheated some ravioli while my roommate went back to hanging with her friends. I went into my room and collapsed on the floor, sobbing uncontrollably.

Like any human person I have a decent amount of experience with crying, but I cannot remember a time where I cried as violently as I did that night in March. I finally felt the full weight of everything I had not been allowing myself to feel and I was shattered. Every failure I had ever experienced, every personal shortcoming I wished I could improve, every anxious glance I took towards my nebulous future, and every terrible thing I knew was true about myself but everyone was too nice to say to my face flooded my thoughts on a non-stop loop of self-perpetuating anguish.

I texted my sorority child and told her I was on the phone with my mom so we would have to take a raincheck on pizza and I texted a friend of mine from home who was an expert at calming me down. He was at a party, but made me promise to Skype him the following night. After hours of unfettered, audible bawling that I unsuccessfully attempted to smother as I feared it would appear performative to anyone whose evening it disturbed, I crawled into bed even more confident in my decision to end my life. Before I fell asleep, my roommate texted me something beautiful and kind to which my natural response was to start crying again.

I woke up exhausted, got dressed for my meeting, and took deep breaths as I reassured myself that everything was okay because it would all be over soon. On my way to the meeting, I got a text from a friend who I hadn't spoken to in a while:

Hey I thought you should know that in my humble opinion you are just an amazing human being, you always have been as long as I’ve known you and I think most people would agree. You’re one of my favorites and I love you to death. Even when we haven’t hung out in a whileeeee you’re still the solid good human being that you always have been to me. And I think that’s just you.

And that was it. Something inside me completely flipped. He had no way of knowing the kind of headspace I was in, but for some reason my friend felt compelled to write the exact combination of words to send to me at the exact right time to essentially save my life. I realized that if his words were sincere, then maybe I did deserve to take up space. To this day I have no idea what made him think to message me such a kind thought, but I'll never be able to thank him enough. The universe works in mysterious and beautiful ways.

I got home from my meeting with a new perspective and a shitload of work to do. My roommate had left me a big bag of my favorite candy with a note of encouragement for my midterms. I smiled and it felt real, like I was more than just an abstract cartesian ego trapped in a human vessel that was programmed to perform the action of smiling. I made some tea and buckled myself in for a semi-all-nighter where I would finish two papers. At some point late in the evening a friend burst into my room and demanded that I use his car drive him to a party downtown. I laughed hysterically as he dramatically scream-sang Rick Ross at me while blasting music the entire ride. I remembered that the things that make life worth living are the tiny, ridiculous, inexplicable moments that somehow string together into one contiguous story that is uniquely your own.

I started this blog as a way to remind myself that what makes life worth living doesn't have to be a grand existential purpose. Things that seem trivial or ridiculous in the grand scheme of things can have a moment-to-moment life-or-death importance. There's stuff I like that I wouldn't be able to experience without being alive, therefore I have to like being alive. And sometimes liking being alive on a logical technicality is enough to justify staying around.

It wouldn’t have made you a fraud to change your mind. It would be sad to do it because you think you somehow have to.
— David Foster Wallace, Good Old Neon